Here I am, in the vines, pruning with my friends (who happen to be my employees). A few cotton ball clouds can’t hide the early spring sun. As ground water seeps into my “waterproof“ boots I start complaining. Or, I should say my feet start complaining. As I wiggle my cold toes I say to myself, “How many Napa Valley winemakers take the time to work and get their feet wet with the same rainwater that percolates down to eighty year old grapevines?” Vines that are no doubt happy to soak up this gift from the skies. Bingo! My toes stop complaining (and so do I)...
Year three of a record breaking drought. It’s never easy farming without irrigation. Ask a farmer. Add drought to the equation, and you have a recipe for stress. For the farmer and the grapevine.
As it turned out, my stress was unnecessary (usually the case), the vines grew a deeper root system, produced a smaller crop, and harvest came early. All good things from a winemaker's viewpoint!
Grenache; the Zinfandel lovers' Pinot Noir...
"Leading in with strawberry and cherry, it typically heads for France with tobacco and leather, spice and earth. Those flavors somehow work incredibly well together."
Those were the early tasting notes after barrel aging for 18 months in French oak. What notes will you find after three years of aging in-bottle?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” (apologies to C. Dickens!).
It was 1986, my grandparents had passed away, and the family had to make some hard decisions. We had almost five acres of an old varietal (Burger/Monbadon) that no winery wanted. A sad day it was when the tractors came to remove the old vines.
With that done, what to plant? Instead of Cabernet Sauvignon like everyone else, we decided to revive an old, rare, and neglected varietal, Charbono...
In 1987, the young Charbono vines were climbing up their stakes. One stake per vine, just like in the “old country”. My Grandfather would have said, “if you’re gonna do it, do it right”. His words have stood my test of time; from the decision to grow organic all the way to a winemaking philosophy that calls for time consuming procedures and the very best oak barrels. “if you’re gonna do it, do it right”...
It did not take long for the Charbono vines to prove themselves. An excellent Napa Valley site and an awesome varietal! Soon sought after by Turley Wine Cellars and Schrader Cellars for stand alone vineyard bottlings. Meanwhile, our winery marked some special “cream of the crop” rows for my limited estate Charbono...
It was the fall of 2000 when I felt that the Charbono vines were mature enough for their first vintage. With the help of Thomas Brown we kicked around different ideas for fermentation methods and barrel types. He appreciated my natural winemaking methods and we both decided on French oak as the best method for aging. Truly a pleasure helping those grape bunches become wine!
1987 is now a long time ago. The baby Charbono vines have become wizened old creatures (some days that describes me too!). I’m proud of my role in helping to give Charbono wines the credit they deserve and right now I’m especially proud of our most recent offering...
“One of the finest examples of this variety out there is the 2015 Charbono from Vince Tofanelli. This sings on the palate and is seriously well made. Impressive.”
93 points - Jeb Dunnuck
120 cases produced
“if you’re gonna do it, do it right”
End of harvest.
Melancholy settles over me every year at this time.
Like a mountaineer I have to remind myself that reaching the summit is only half of the journey (Getting back home is the ultimate goal!). "Home" for me is sharing. While quiet returns to the caves, it's time to pull corks and pour - for friends, family, and fans.
Please grab a bottle and share our newest release: 2015 Tofanelli Estate Zinfandel
As in all things, Balance!
Vincent Tofanelli, grape grower, winemaker
Often we forget that wine is a microbiological product. They contain all sorts of natural microorganisms that are essential to the winemaking process – like yeast. Yeasts are tiny. We can’t see them, but they do the heavy lifting to transform sweet-tasting grape juice into something much more complex – a liquid that has the potential to be profound (maybe even life-changing)!
My winemaking philosophy leads me to use the naturally occurring yeast that lives in the vineyard (hello, terroir!) and a small amount of cultured yeast (predictable aromas, clean ferments). This combination gives my wines a layered complexity that speaks “Old World influence with Napa Valley intensity..."
It's time! The grape flavors are lip-smackingly beautiful and the lab numbers are perfect. My dedicated crew harvests in the early light when the fruit is cold and I can get a jump on the long process of trucking, de-stemming, and moving the grape must into the caves where the ‘alchemy’ begins – fermentation! The aromas in a wine cave during harvest can be sublime, a mixture of fruit jellies, yeast, oak wood, and earth. Subtle, but once experienced, never forgotten...
A question that is often asked, “How do you determine when to harvest?”
In other words, “when are the grapes ripe?” Easily asked, but hard to answer! I base my decisions on the style of wine I like; full fresh flavor extraction without cooked, raisiny overtones. It’s based on a more European vision of wines that age well and pair well with food.
First and foremost is how the individual berries taste. I base this on my forty years of experience making wine from the same vineyard. To back that up comes my refractometer. A cool tool to measure sugar levels. I like to calculate which rows I am sampling beforehand to help get the most accurate sample set. Then I’ll walk the rows gathering berries (and eating them, delicious!) from the shady interior and the sunny exterior. That allows my sample set to have the best lookalike representation of all of my fruit in the vineyard. With the berries gathered, I juice them by hand (fun smooshy work), and some of it goes in the refractometer and some goes to the lab for pH/acidity readings.
Barrels are empty.
Tanks are full.
Getting it ready...
After a long Winters nap ... the mustard is blooming, and the grapevines need pruning!